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Tales & Trails

Deroid White--Rokeby Blacksmith by Sue Williams
Taken from the January 2006 issue of "Tales and Trails"

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Deroid White was born September 24, 1855 twelve miles east of Syracuse, in Oran, New York. He was the son of Hiram D. and Elizabeth (Barnes) White. The 1910 census shows that Deroid's parents were both born in New York.

Elizabeth, Deroid's mother, didn't want Deroid to become a blacksmith but Hiram, his father, felt that it was best for his son. "His father and grandfather were blacksmiths. The family home was all but under the same roof with his father's shop, and the child was playing in the doorway and possibly like the poetical children, caught the sparks falling upward." When Deroid was 8 years old, he heated some chain links, put them together and welded them. This was in his grandfather's little country shop.

At age 9 Deroid set a shoe, though he had been forbidden to attempt this during his father's absence. A man came to the blacksmith shop while Hiram White was away from the shop. The man's horse needed a new shoe. Deroid didn't want to do the job, but the man insisted. Later when Hiram saw the horse shoe, he realized it wasn't his work. So the owner of the horse explained to Hiram that Deroid didn't want to do the work but that he had insisted on it as he needed the work done. He said that he would take the whipping for the boy.

Deroid was short and needed to stand on a stool made of a couple of supports with two-by-fours laid across it in order to work in the blacksmith shop. Deroid loved being around the blacksmith shop and wanted to learn the trade, so he helped his father in the shop. His father soon realized that his son 
learned quickly. He was able to work the sledge and turn horseshoes by 10 years of age. He became an apprentice to his father working before and after school and on Saturdays. In 1869, when Deroid was 14 years old, he quit school to work in the blacksmith shop.

Before Deroid was 21 years old, he went to vote. No one asked him his age and they didn't realize that he wasn't old enough to vote. In 1876 he voted for Rutherford B. Hayes, and William A. Wheeler giving them an extra vote. He said "I'd been born and raised right there, and they ought to've known how old I was. I guess they wasn't as particular in those days as they are now".

Shortly after he became of age, Deroid left Oran and went to Pennsylvania. He rented a forge and worked in a blacksmith shop. He stayed as long as he desired before moving on to a new location. He wandered about for some time and later settled in Missouri for several years. In the evenings he worked as a veterinarian, an occupation he had also learned from his father.

Mr. White said he was more comfortable shoeing an ugly horse than a gentle one. In all his years as a blacksmith, Deroid only had one serious accident. While in Missouri, an owner brought in an animal that he said was "high-geared, but not a kicker". Deroid was very careful while shoeing the first three hoofs. When putting on the last shoe he wasn't as careful, as he had customers waiting. The animal plunged, throwing him back against the forge. A friend pulled him from the fire and quieted the horse to prevent further injury. Deroid was laid up for a short time. He was never kicked at any other time and was never afraid of any animal.

Deroid moved to Nebraska in 1900 and settled in Clatonia, Nebraska. November 6, 1900, at the age of 39, Deroid married Lulu Granger, who was 31 years old. They married in Lancaster County. Lulu was born September 21 1869 in Iowa and was living in Roca, Nebraska. Lulu was the daughter of Jacob and Anna (Bartlett) Long. Deroid was the town marshal in Clatonia for a time, but he was more interested in his work than in holding a public office. Deroid and Lulu lived in Clatonia until October 1904.

Mr. and Mrs. White then moved to Prairie Home, Nebraska, and lived there for a year and a half. In 1906 they moved to Martell, Nebraska. Deroid gave up his veterinary practice in 1907. The White's adopted Mary who was born in 1905.

in 1911 the White's moved to Rokeby Nebraska. Deroid moved from Martell because he didn't have enough garden space. Gardening was his hobby. Every evening after he closed his shop he went to the garden and hoed and pulled weeds until dark. "He was an adventurous gardener. He raised giant guinea beans, which grew to three feet long per bean, tree strawberries, tomatoes with vines that grew eight feet high, cucumbers that measure twelve inches in length and grow on a vine that twists about for twenty one feet. Those are a few of the more unusual things in which Mr. White has experimented."

In Rokeby Mr. White's blacksmith shop was located east of the Rock Island railroad tracks and northeast of the Rokeby elevator. The grocery store was across the street to the south. The White's home was east of his blacksmith shop. 

1920, at the age of 65 years, Deroid had to give up shoeing horses because of problems in his legs. He then repaired wagons and worked with plows, cultivators, and other farm machinery. When he was asked to repair automobiles, he refused. He said he didn't care to have anything to do with "modern transportation." During his lifetime he never drove and had no desire to learn to drive.

Deroid and Lulu's daughter Mary attended Rokeby School which at that time was located in Rokeby Community Hall. In 1921 Rokeby High school was built several blocks east of the Community Hall on the south side of the road. The high school students then moved from the Community Hall to the new high school. The elementary school children remained in the Rokeby Community Hall. Mary graduated from Rokeby High School in 1923. She was in the second graduation class from the new building. She graduated with Albert Davis, Bertha Oltjenbruns Beldin, Clarence Peterson, Lela Rundle Peterson, and Edward Sullivan.

Deroid was an excellent blacksmith. He never had any work returned because of poor workmanship, although he had been called in to repair the work of less skilled craftsmen. In 1926, the White's grandson, Edward was born and lived with his grandparents for several years and attended Rokeby school.

In the county history book, the men's political party was often listed. Mr. White had been a Republican most of his life but in 1932, he talked about "going over to the Democrats as he thought Roosevelt as good as any of them. An ardent prohibitionist, Mr. White declares he would not take even a swallow of sweet cider for anybody. He thought Mr. Roosevelt fills his requirement rather better than any of the other democratic presidential aspirants".

Mary married Frank J. McGerr and they lived in Lincoln. Frank was born in Nebraska in 1905. Edward is the oldest of his six siblings--Mary Lou, Vivian, Ellen, JoAnne, Dan and Lesley.

Saturday February 22, 1936, Rokeby lost their blacksmith. Deroid White died at the age of 80. He had operated his blacksmith shop in Rokeby for 26 years and worked in a blacksmith shop for seventy years. He was buried in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Lincoln Nebraska. Shortly after Deroid died in 1936, Lulu and Edward moved to Lincoln. Edward was 10 years old and in the fifth grade at Rokeby Lulu moved in with her sister and her husband, Lida and Leroy C. Bryan. Edward moved in with his father and mother Frank and Mary McGerr. Lulu died 11 years after Deroid on Friday July 18, 1947 at the age of 77. She died in her sister's home at 1801 N. 24th street. She also is buried at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery.

Mary White McGerr passed away March, 1978 and Frank followed the following year, in April 1979. They are buried in Calvary Cemetery at South 40th and O street in Lincoln Nebraska.

Some of the people who lived in Rokeby in the past remember Deroid and his blacksmith shop. Mark Steinhausen remembers Deroid working in his shop and Mr. White sharpened all the plow lathes around Rokeby. Marie Steinhausen Maus remembers walking home from Rokeby school with the children who lived in the grocery store which was located across the street from White's blacksmith shop. Marie remembers Mr. White as a white-haired man, and Lulu as short and very nice. She said both Mr. and Mrs. White were hardworking people.

Marie said the White's built their house in Rokeby and didn't have any water in their house. They got their water from the Rokeby well, where many people in Rokeby got their water. Marie Steinhausen Maus bought the White house from Lulu White in 1944. Marie and Floyd lived in the house and added on to it. They lived there for ten years. The house is still standing in Rokeby today.

Bruce Robinson moved to Rokeby in 1936 when he was in the first grade. he remembers the blacksmith shop and said "the forge was built of brick and was still in the shop when they lived there". Mr. White's blacksmith ship is still standing in Rokeby today.

Arleen (Gray) Knapp said "I remember that I went with my father (Lafe Gray) to the blacksmith shop and I watched the sparks fly from the anvil as my father talked to Mr. White. My father respected Mr. White and his abilities at the anvil".

Editors note: Some of this information taken from the Sunday Journal and Star newspaper July 3, 1932 and from conversations with Edward McGerr.

Pictured are Deroid and Lulu White and Mr. White in his blacksmith shop. Pictures supplied by Edward McGerr.


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